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SPRING SIDELINES: North hopes an experienced defense can lead a playoff return

Spring Sidelines 2019 Episode 5: North Forsyth

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North Forsyth’s football team didn’t have to look hard to find a good source of motivation heading into the offseason and into the spring.

Last year, the Raiders lost four games by four points or less, some in crushing fashion, which ultimately played a part in them missing out on the postseason. The desire to close the gap on those kinds of games has been a primary goal.

“You’ve really got to focus on where we're missing out,” North coach Robert Craft said. “Where’s the play or two that you're missing out on?”

That focus has started in spring practice, where the Raiders look to have a vastly different kind of team than the one they fielded last fall. But just like they did last year, North is hoping to capitalize and build its team on its strengths.

“I feel like we have a lot more energy coming out this year,” linebacker Jack Tucker said. “Everyone's excited to get back into things, start hitting again, that kind of thing.”

Unlike Craft’s first three seasons as North’s head coach, the defense could be the Raiders’ primary strength heading into the summer. Despite losing key defensive back Honus Wagner, North returns 12 defensive players who started at least one game last year. Tucker will figure to be an important piece in the middle. Max Bryant and Sam Thompkins will be leaders up front, and in the secondary, Tyler Cunningham, Miles Hartsfield and Austin Colon will look to make an impact.

“Hey, it takes some pressure off,” Craft said. “It’s exciting. To compete for a championship, you've got to be good on defense. We're excited about that group. It's really the first time that we've really returned a lot of guys defensively. We're really excited for that and what it could do for your football team.”

Most of North’s changes are on the offensive side, where some key pieces have moved on. On the offensive line, the Raiders are replacing five seniors, including Jeremy James, who’s set to play at Ole Miss. The running back position appears to be inexperienced but deep, and at quarterback, Brady Meitz and Drew Aucoin are competing for the starting job.

It’s unclear what kind of strengths the offense will have. Last year saw North take a step back from its previous air raid philosophy in favor of a more run-oriented attack behind a big offensive line. That might change again this year.

“We want to be really balanced, and we probably weren't there last year,” Craft said. “But that was really the type of team we had. We want to get back to a little more balanced, but in spring, we're trying to find out who those offensive linemen are going to be, who those running backs are going to be. In the summer is when we'll work on more of our passing game.”

No matter who ends up getting the starting nod at quarterback, a key part of that passing game will no doubt be rising senior Nicky Dalmolin, the only returning starter on offense. During his junior year, the Duke commit led North with 47 catches and 514 receiving yards.

“He can almost play any position on the field, we feel like,” Craft said. “Through his career here, he's played about every position but quarterback, so it's nice to have that guy. We know what he can do -- we're trying to find out (about) some of these other guys.”

The Raiders had a chance to get an early look at how they all fit together during their scrimmage against Roswell. The final outcome of that wasn't important, but they hope it was a start in finding the winning plays they’re missing.

“We're just all excited to get Roswell this week,” Tucker said. “Everyone's getting motivated, everyone's ready. Everyone's excited to not hit against our teammates for once, hit someone unfamiliar, (and) see what we're all about.”